The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

2015 Position Previews: Linebacker

Alyssa Hitchcock
Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann scores a touchdown after blocking a punt by Northwestern during the Iowa/Northwestern game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 48-7. (The Daily Iowan/Alyssa Hitchcock)

After a learning year in 2014, the Hawkeye linebackers know they need to improve this season.

By Danny Payne
[email protected]

Should you decide to read past this sentence — assuming you’re an Iowa fan — bad memories will likely come to mind. That’s not to say everything involving the Hawkeye linebackers in 2014 was poor, but as it goes in sports, the bad often sticks out more than the good.

There were growing pains for Iowa’s inexperienced linebacking corps last season, which was to be expected after the graduation of James Morris, Anthony Hitchens, and Christian Kirksey. Those aches were worst against Minnesota and in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Tennessee, in which opponents rushed for a combined 574 yards and 7 touchdowns.

“I don’t think anybody has any inferiority complexes or any of that stuff,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked about his team’s poor performance last year. “That’s the great thing about sports; you get a chance to get back up on your feet and do something about your last experience or things that you weren’t happy about.

“We didn’t have to call Dr. Phil in or anything like that for our football team.”

As Ferentz noted, the growing pains of last season are over. This is a new year. Now, whichever players are on the field — it sounds as if sophomores Ben Niemann and Josey Jewell on the outside and in the middle, with senior Cole Fisher on the weak side are the starting three right now — they will compete come Sept. 5.

Those won’t be the only three playing, however; sophomore Bo Bower and senior Travis Perry figure to see the field in some capacity this season. Perhaps another player — such as Aaron Mends or a true freshman — will have his number called, but those core five players will have the brunt of the work.

“It’s a lot more comfortable, you get more comfortable with the guys, with the scheme, I mean everything,” said Jewell, who racked up 14 tackles against Tennessee, perhaps a sign of things to come. “It’s an unbelievable amount of pressure off of you, too; you just feel more comfortable in everybody. You know everybody.”

So how will a group of five players with 124 career tackles among them answer the bell? They’ll have to be better against dynamic quarterbacks and on the outside. Take the 51-14 loss in Minneapolis last year, for example.

Quarterback Mitch Leidner and wide receiver KJ Maye torched the Hawkeyes, who couldn’t find a way to stop the jet sweep or keep Leidner in the pocket. That duo, along with running back David Cobb, ripped the Hawkeyes for 217 yards on 37 carries, an average of nearly 6 yards per carry.

It’s experiences such as that game, along with the 84 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns from Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs in January, that the linebackers will have to use to their advantage. If they don’t correct their mistakes, it could be a long season.

They know it, too. At the team’s media day earlier this month, Bower was asked if the TaxSlayer Bowl was a low point for him. He agreed and noted Minnesota as well.

And, of course, they’re optimistic. They have some reason to be, too. Iowa traditionally produces solid linebackers.

In addition to Jewell’s 14 tackles, Niemann showed athleticism blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown against Northwestern last season. Bower intercepted 2 passes as a redshirt freshman. If nothing else, Perry and Fisher have four-plus years of experience in the program under their belts.

Now it’s a matter of demonstrating their optimism is warranted.

“I think it comes with experience, it comes with the right mental mindset,” Bower said. “… We’re just more experienced and ready to go.”


Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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